Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cyclist or Bike Rider?

Go get 'em Angels
I recently purchased what I consider to be a pretty fancy new bike. And by “pretty fancy” I obviously mean “not purchased at Target.” I was in the market for a road bike, the kind of bike that could get me a little speed, not necessarily the kind of bike I would have hooked up to the Burley kid-hauler when my daughter was 4. I wanted the kind of bike that says “lycra” not “low-rise capris.” Before my fancy bike came along, I was riding a perfectly serviceable hybrid mountain bike, which was about as sleek as a Sears Huffy dirt bike, circa 1980. It’s a very comfortable ride but also kind of “chugga-chugga” in the speed department.

When I started looking at road bikes the first thing I noticed was the absence of pedals. It seemed to me that these bikes were not going to go very fast, or really go anywhere at all, without this important part but a tiny voice inside my head told me not to point and say “that bike has no pedals.” The second thing I noticed was that when the sales guys were discussing prices, they always threw in the phrase “with shoes and pedals” before quoting a total. Playing it cool, I would nod my head as if to say “oh yeah, I’m totally down on the new shoes and pedals.” I’ve seen those people who actually ride fast, decked out from head to toe in skin-tight, super-hero-like black and neon suits and rigid shoes that make them walk like penguins. But I never really imagined I would BE one of them.

I’ll never forget my first two-wheeler bike. In fact, the bike itself made sure I would never forget it by leaving me with indelible scars on my right ankle where the crank arm, apparently with a minor manufacturer’s flaw, used to routinely gouge the skin off whenever my ankle brushed against it as I pedaled. The razor sharp edge probably could have been filed down or something, made more ankle-friendly but my sister (with whom I occasionally traded bikes) and I simply learned to ride with our right foot as far out on the edge of the platform pedal as possible. But of course, when you are Charlie’s Angels on bikes, and you are chasing the bad guys or the bad guys are chasing you, you might accidentally forget and let your foot get too close to that arm again and although you have become inured to the pain, you would arrive home at the end of hot summer night of crime-fighting to find the entire inside of your right foot awash in blood. Damn, shaved the ankle again.

Despite this flaw, however, I loved that bike. I had a troubled history with bikes already, in that I had been riding my training-wheel bike until about age 7 or 8. I was always tall, so by the time I was 5 my knees would whack the handle bars every time I pedaled but I gladly suffered through the constant bruising to avoid the terror of balancing on two wheels. And although it took some work, I learned to accommodate the high-speed cadence required to make a 20” bike, with loose, rattling training wheels travel as fast as the big kids on their big-kid bikes. One day, though, it finally hit me how totally dorky I looked hunched over on my wee little bike, pedaling furiously with my knees turned way out to avoid the constant entrapment of the tiny handle bars, half a block behind everyone else. I knew then, it was do or die. I learned to ride a bike the next day and my parents rewarded me with the awesome new, ankle-shaving bike from Sears, with a beautiful, blue-flowered banana seat. That bike rocked.

Until, of course, the 10-speed became the “in” thing, a bike with hand brakes so you could learn to ride no-handed and pedal backwards and chill out, listening to the sweet tick-tick-tick the pedals made in reverse. Who would want to ride around on a goofy banana seat when you could have a bike with TEN speeds, man? All those gears added up to mind-blowing potential. Sometime in the teen years, my dad bought me a 10-speed, a shiny black speed machine that practically shot sparks it was so intimidatingly cool. It was a Puch, which, for reasons that I cannot now comprehend, I fully believed meant “bad-ass, ass-kicking, high velocity bike of sweetness” in some foreign language. Now when I see that name, I just think “Puke? Really?” Another childhood myth, ruthlessly shattered. Anyway, I got a lot of miles out of the Puch and now have no recollection of what became of my bike of sweetness.

There have only been a few bikes in the intervening years. My red Trek 330, purchased in 1988, the first summer I spent in Minneapolis. A mountain bike I bought from a college boyfriend who I foolishly lived with for six months in Washington, DC. I think I actually overpaid him for that bike in exchange for the promise that he would never again contact me and ask for the bike back. There were a few years when I didn’t own a bike. And that brings me to my current mom-bike and my fancy new road bike. On my mom-bike, I feel like a kid and I wish for a basket with plastic flowers on the front. On my road bike, I feel like a poser, but am secretly pleased when I can race the trains that occasionally run parallel to the bike trail. I sometimes wish I had that banana seat bike back, so I could be one of Charlie’s Angels again. We need more crime fighting on bikes. In the end, though, I guess it doesn’t really matter who we are on a bike. It’s just important that we are out there, riding like the wind, shaved ankles and all. Enjoy and be safe, my friends.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Post-failed-rapture Musings

Five Reasons I Thought For Sure I Had a Chance at Ascending to Heaven
  1. I almost always say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Even to total strangers at the grocery store. Mostly I do this just to watch the surprised look on their faces. It amuses me. But it also feels like a proper response. The unblessed sneeze leaves me hanging. It’s very unsettling. A sneeze needs closure.
  2. My husband and I have undertaken an intense campaign of ziploc sandwich bag recycling over the last few years, which makes us feel extremely virtuous. Even the greasiest bag or the one smeared with peanut butter & jelly gets scrubbed out with hot, soapy water and hung up to dry. Then again, good ecological practices may not necessarily equate to holiness, so maybe I misjudged this one. Or maybe my smugness over this practice actually worked against me.
  3. I am generally pretty accepting of people from all walks of life. I try to be kind and polite to individuals with really lowly jobs in the service industry because I figure they get crapped on all the time. There is definitely no reason to think I’m better than they are.
  4. I’m a generous tipper.
  5. When I’m at a store and I see a short person trying to reach something on a high-up shelf, I always offer to reach it for them since I am 5’9” and seem quite skilled at stretching my body out as long as I can. Little old ladies really dig this.
Five Reasons I Did Not Stand a Chance In Hell at Ascending to Heaven

  1. I swear a lot. And I really like it. And I really have no qualms about spelling out the word god or even God, without that little hyphen in between the g and the d. I think it would be super petty of God to hold this against me on judgment day.
  2. I don’t attend church. Although, this seems pretty trivial, too, really. What about the individual who lives in a remote tribal area of a sparsely populated country? That guy doesn’t go to church either but he may be extremely sublime. But still, I really make no effort to worship any divine power. Unless you count feeding the birds.
  3. I am generally pretty unaccepting of people who I simply find stupid. And I can cast a pretty wide net on this one. Sarah Palin, Charlie Sheen, my neighbor who doesn’t like me because I added a garage to my house in 2005 and “ruined his view” from his kitchen window (mighty Christian of me to target my neighbor, huh?), Harold Camping, drivers who don’t obey yield signs in traffic, who actually don’t even seem to comprehend what the word “yield” means. I mean, I try to be as “zen” as possible when I’m driving and consider that not every stupid move by a driver is a personal affront to me, but the yield sign, that should not be such a danger zone. Those people need a dictionary and fast.
  4. I can be somewhat quick to judge. See #3.
  5. Let’s face it, I didn’t really believe any of that rapture crap anyway. I think the whole world is slowly going to hell without any divine intervention and I just don’t see how a person’s character, good or bad, is going to make much of a difference at the rate we’re going. My sincere apologies to the truly good people of the world.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Haiku For a Rainy Day?

Here's a little something different. Feel free to let me know if you think I should avoid the poetic adventures (I may or may not take your advice). It was composed on the road.

Rode my bike in rain
A reminiscence of youth
dirt, sweat, bad hair, joy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dating Sucks

I hate dating. No, I’m not talking about that painful social custom whereby two people who may or may not find each other attractive arrange an appointment during which they can get to know each other and explore their potential romantic feelings for each other. Although that kind of dating is fairly hideous, too, as I recall. Memories of those days are forever tattooed onto my psyche. But now, as a 40-something mother, I can tell you, that particular form of torture has been replaced by a new kind of torture/date; they call it the play date.

If you are like me (and by “like me” I mean someone who grew up in the 70s or earlier) then you remember the way play time sessions were arranged way back when. It may have started with you wandering aimlessly around the house, complaining to your mom that you were bored, that there was nothing to do. And your mom responded by telling you to go outside and play. Quite frankly, this never made a lot of sense to me as a kid. I mean, if there was nothing to do inside and I was feeling bored, why on earth was that going to change the instant I walked outside? Outside was not inherently interesting to me. If I was so terribly lacking in creativity that I could not come up with a decent way to entertain myself indoors, how was the fresh air supposed to suddenly spark a brilliant, innovative idea for play activity? Of course, I realize now that my mother, in reality, did not give a rat’s ass about how I entertained myself. She just wanted me go outside because then she wouldn’t be able to hear me complaining of boredom and, more importantly, she would not have to see me looking bored. And in the mind of a parent from that generation, child out of sight equaled child adequately cared for. Oh, they were so lucky back then with that laissez faire-style parenting…

So you’d go outside and somehow you would, miraculously, scrounge up something to do. Often this involved a chance meeting with another child who had also been banished from his or her house and together you’d come up with a game, ride bikes, play house, or, in my case, you would encourage your best friend to act out some really unacceptable behavior while promising her it was really okay to act in such a manner and then your best friend would get caught and you would act innocent even though everyone could see through your act and knew that you were obviously the bad seed. But the point was you were engaged in “play” with another kid who was referred to as your “friend” and it involved almost no work on the part of your parent, other than the initial energy expended when mom barred you from the house. It seems to me that past about my fifth birthday party, all of the inviting of friends to “play” was done by me. My mom didn’t “set up” “play dates.” I had two choices in life: either A) follow my mom around the house learning about how to scrub the toilet or how to make hospital corners (truth is, I liked that lesson and perhaps my mother recognized how unnatural it was for me to conduct lessons with my 8-year old pals on how to tuck the sheets in properly and that’s why she drove me out of the house) or B) go “play.” How I played was up to me. If I wanted other kids to play with, I had to do my own bidding.

Nowadays, however, from what I can figure out (which is precious little), it is one’s parental duty to arrange “dates” between your own child and others’ children for the express purpose of the two children engaging in “play” activities together for a specified period of time. No one ever actually told me this and the page on how exactly the arranging of play dates is conducted seems to be missing from my parenting manual so I’m unable to provide any more insight than this. I guess that’s what you get from the garage sale edition of Parenting for Dummies. Which is why, as my child lies writhing on the floor lamenting her boredom, I can do nothing more than hold up a finger and say “hold on, it’s supposed to be on page 131… right – here, no wait, next page. Oh damn it, it’s not here! The page has been ripped out! Goddamn garage sale book… Now what do I do? Would you stop that whining for Christ’s sake?!”

Okay, so, it’s not really as bad as all that. But here’s what really sticks in my craw. A week ago, my daughter came home from school saying her friend wanted to see her (my daughter’s) upcoming violin recital and could friend come with us. I said sure. Well, it was more like, “uh… ok, sure. I guess so. I guess I’ll have to call friend’s mom and make sure it’s okay.” And I called, but friend’s mom was not home. Instead, 8-year old friend answered, I identified myself and the purpose of my call and I told her to pass this on to her mom. Friend may or may not have communicated the info to her mother. Later, I saw friend’s mom at a birthday party drop-off and I asked her in-person about the possibility of friend coming with us to the violin recital. She checked her calendar and agreed to drop friend off at our house an hour before the big recital. On the night of the recital friend does not show at the appointed time. I was hesitant to call friend and/or friend’s mother at the time because it seemed rather awkward and besides, my attention was required for the official Dressing For the Violin Recital Ritual. The violin recital was attended, sans friend, songs were played, enthusiastic clapping ensued, bows were taken, children and instruments were collected and schlepped home. End of story.

Fortunately, my daughter did not make a big stink over her friend’s absence. And I should clarify, this is not a rant against the friend or friend’s mom. Families are busy, things fall through the cracks. I understand that. It’s more just a rant about the situation and me wondering what I should have done differently to achieve the desired outcome. Admittedly, I freak out a lot about my daughter’s ability to make and maintain friendships. I’ll forego a lengthy analysis of why this is, how my own childhood friendships affect my perspective of my daughter’s peer relationships. Because really, as far as Martha’s development goes thus far in life, I would offer the enthusiastic if somewhat spartan assessment of “so far so good.” I might even go so far as to offer a “thumbs up” gesture to go with. My point being that I don’t think this incident will have any adverse affect on my daughter’s overall well-being. It’s just an annoyance. I’ve had similar experiences with other play-date attempts, which leaves me wondering, how the hell do these things work? How come I don’t seem to have acquired the proper play-date-arranging technique? I’ve tried, I really have. Ok, I’ve tried half-heartedly, but still… I’ve tried. It’s this kind of thing that makes me really pine for the “olden” days when I was a kid and I just went outside and bam, play date. Life was so much simpler back then. If only I had had the nerve to give birth to about 5 more kids, then I’d really never have to pay attention to them. Live and learn.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sweet 13

My niece, Maggie, turns 13 today. In honor of her birthday, I am dedicating this post to her. I would love to give her the gift of wisdom and insight to know what is really worth freaking out about as a teenager but I suppose part of being a teenager is freaking out about everything and I certainly wouldn’t want to deprive her of any valuable learning. I wish I could give her the gift of self-assurance, at least a tiny bit. Or I wish I could give her the gift of being able to say “fuck this” to anything that makes her feel bad. But it is rare, maybe downright impossible, to see in ourselves what others see in us. Maybe it is also impossible to provide insight into the sheer idiocy of adolescence. It’s just a road you have to take.

I don’t actually remember my 13th birthday, which is a shame because I have a feeling it was much more subdued than my 14th birthday. My 14th birthday sticks with me, possibly because of the supreme effort I put into ruining it and alienating everyone around me on that day. It’s not worth telling the whole story, but I know Maggie will enjoy some of the highlights, which included:
  1. Fallout from a little incident the day before when I got drunk after school
  2. Fallout from skipping school the day of my birthday and then inadvertently confessing (to a third-party) in the presence of my mother who immediately confronted me with the question “You did what?!”
  3. Fallout from the poor judgment used when I decided, somewhat impulsively, that “Fuck you,” was a clever response to this question – in the midst of all my friends attending my suddenly less-than-festive birthday party.
But that was 14 and we’re talking about 13.

I unearthed my 8th grade journal today, which I started about 5 months after my 13th birthday. Although it doesn’t shed any light on my actual birthday, it goes a long way in illustrating my thought process at age 13. A very long way. One might even say, far, far too long a way… Again, I’ll have to spare you the specifics (or spare my dignity, however you want to read that) but the most important things on my mind at age 13 were homework, friends and boys (duh). My spelling was atrocious. I was extremely fond of cute misspellings such as "‘cuz" and "Gawd." And uh, the boy I found attractive at the time, I describe as “fine.” As in, he’s so fine. I am in pain just typing that. I also appear to have had very little control over my emotions as I often made statements such as “I hope I don’t like him.” Well, honestly… how stupid is that? Did I or did I not like him? It was my own emotion for heaven’s sake… you’d think I could work that one out. Obviously, I liked him – but with a significant degree of embarrassment about it.

My beautiful niece
So there you are Maggie. I know how you enjoy these glimpses into the past and that is one thing I love about you. You are a genuine teenager now. My advice to you is to start writing everything down, because 30 years from now, it could make for some really funny stories. And the only thing I wish I could tell you and have you actually believe is that you really are perfect, just like Pink says.